Beginner Guide to Indoor Training
This article is meant as a resource. When I was first getting into indoor cycling there was no basic source of information.
Why should I train with watts?
What’s the actual difference between training platforms?
What do training platforms even do?
Why use a training plan?
To answer these questions you either buy a book that may or may not be full with fluff, or you read a bunch of short articles that don’t really say much. This article is meant to come across as if a riding buddy posed a question while on a ride. I’m not a coach, doctor, nor that good of an athlete. I just use indoor training to stay in shape and enable myself to ride outdoors with friends when I can find the time.
Don’t take what I write too seriously, but hopefully there is some useful information in here that you can benefit from. With all that said:
The Smart Trainer Revolution
The smart trainer revolution has changed cycling forever. It’s made precise training accessible to dummies like me that started off with no idea about TSS, FTP, LT, HRZ, and all the other acronyms we use to confuse beginners and make them feel worthless.
Just kidding, but in the beginning it can feel like you’re drowning in terms you don’t know while constantly spending money you’re not sure you REALLY need to be spending. Hoards of people online will tell you an infinite amount of things to upgrade and spend money on. But what is actually important? We will get into 4 different levels of indoor training setups starting at $400 all the way up to $5,000 ish (you can always spend more).
Riding consistently is the best way to get better at whatever mode of cycling you enjoy. If you are a beginner, any one of the apps mentioned will have some built in training plan feature and a way to test your strength to customize the workouts in a thoughtful and scientific way. Some apps, dare I say, could even make indoor riding FUN!
A smart trainer really just enables you to train more specifically in comparison to a fluid head trainer, or ‘dumb trainer’. A smart trainer measures your watt output. We’ll talk about watts later, but for now just know it’s the most specific data point of the big three: Cadence, Heart Rate, and Watts. Cadence is important, but it’s kind of a secondary metric.
We can’t design an entire training plan around Cadence. Heart Rate gives us a window into the biological processes that are taking place. And Watts let us precisely measure how much force your legs are putting on the pedals. Without Watts, we have to just go by heart rate.
Indoor training seems simple:
- Get a trainer
- Hook up your bike
- Start pedaling
It can be that simple. You can even use a normal fluid head trainer for a couple hundred bucks or find one at a garage sale or craigslist for even cheaper. They look something like this and all require your wheel to be on the bike.
I mean, see how cool you can look?
That’s gotta be at least a little persuasive.
Heart Rate Based Training
Okay, but how do I know how to use a trainer even if I got one? Just pedal hard until I start sweating and keep doing that for… 15 min? 30 min? 1 hour? What’s the frequency of these workouts, every day? Should I do more one day and less others?
These questions are why we use metrics to know what’s going on with the body while we workout. The three main metrics in cycling are Heart Rate, Cadence, and Watts. Heart Rate is very useful. We can do certain tests that tell us either our max heart rate or our threshold heart rate and assign zones working backwards from there.
Zone 1 being the easiest and Zone 6 being the hardest. There are different methods, some have 6 zones, the one I have below has subsets of zone 5 to get granular on hard efforts.
In comparison to a smart trainer, a heart rate monitor ($90) and a cadence sensor ($30) are pretty cheap.
There are entire books written on this method of training. It helps a lot to train with watts, but runners and swimmers train on heart rate… so don’t let someone tell you watts are everything, bump that, man. Sure, it’s helpful, but it’s not the only way to train.
That being said, there are a few downsides to heart rate based training. This metric is a little delayed, about 30s, and will change based on what you have been up to lately like sleep amount, stress, drinking, smoking, etc. As much as I think smart trainers are awesome, not everyone has that money laying around, and, as we’ll see, a smart trainer is the primary cost in the minimal set up
I’ve used a decent amount of Heart Rate Monitors in the past few years, not because I’m a gadget head, but because I’d buy one and it’d stop working after a few months. The only one that has lasted is the Polar Verity Sense. It’s pictured in our product photos because it’s the one I use everyday. It has a long battery life and is very accurate.
So, in short, smart trainers enable you to use watts to train with. Same as heart rate, you find your zones and train off them. The data you get from watts gives you a clearer picture of what stress you’re putting on your body throughout the ride. Watts combined with Heart Rate and Cadence gives you a complete picture, but heart rate zones are still a decent way to train.
Why Cyclists are Obsessed with Watts
The main difference between a fluid head ‘dumb trainer’ and a smart trainer is: a smart trainer has a computer inside. This computer is made to measure your watt output. Watts tell you exactly how much effort your muscles can put on the pedals. It’s like knowing how much weight you are lifting when you squat or bench press. Here’s another way to look at it: 745.7 Watts = 1 Horsepower.
This is why people are so obsessed with how many watts they produce. It’s the standard unit of effort in cycling. Same reason people talk about how much they can lift. There is another element though: your weight. A widely used rule of thumb is Watts/Kg. Watts being expressed as FTP and Kg is your body weight. However, there are a lot of caveats to W/Kg as a rule of thumb.
For example, someone could have a 3.5 W/Kg, but over the course of a 4 hour event only be able to sustain 60% where someone with a 3.2 W/Kg could be able to hold a higher percentage and end up beating them out. So W/Kg and endurance are just multipliers of the other. And then climbing is a whole nother variable where more weight affects you more on steeper hills.
So two people with the same W/Kg but different overall weight will perform differently if it’s a 10% or 5% average grade. The heavier you are, the less you like steep hills. It completely depends on what you’re training for, and if you’re starting out, you’re probably just trying to get in better shape. Just ignore that stuff and focus on having a positive relationship with riding.
How Training Platforms Work
So now we come to our first acronym: Functional Threshold Power. Simply put, FTP is how many watts you can average in an hour’s time. It’s just a number like 150, or 220. Zwift, Trainer Road, Training Peaks, all have a builtin FTP test. Something like this ramp test.
If you don’t have a general idea of what your FTP is, the first FTP test you do will be slightly inaccurate, and probably lower than what it actually is.
Don’t take this too seriously though because in a structured training plan you will do an FTP test about every month, so it will get more accurate over time. The important thing is the concept. The importance of FTP is not so you can tell your friends how weak they are, but it’s so you can enter this number into your chosen training plan.
The platforms all have the same basic function: They take your FTP and prescribe certain times to be at a certain percent of that number.
That’s the basics of interval training. So an example would be 50% FTP for 10 min. That’s an interval. Another is 90% FTP for 8 min. If we combine these and other intervals back to back we can make a High Intensity Interval Training session (HIIT). As seen in the example workout below.
And the beauty is that a smart trainer will adjust to that specific wattage automatically. This is why smart trainers are so revolutionary:
- Test your FTP
- Enter that number into a program
- All of your workouts are automatically customized exactly to your level of fitness
The Simplicity of .MRC & .ERG
You know .jpeg and .pdf? Well there is a file type for trainers too: .ERG and .MRC. There are others but these are the most common. They are super simple, here is an example:
That’s it. That’s the entire workout.
The left column is minutes and the right is % of your FTP. Lets say your FTP is 200. That means the first 6.60 minutes you’ll be at 50% FTP, or, 100 W. Then from 6.60 to 7.98, you’ll be at 140%, or 280W, then back down to 100W until 9.07 minutes.
See how awesome that is? Those are your intervals. A smart trainer is just an interface. The trainer takes in and reacts to this file that is broadcasted to it via bluetooth or ANT+. And these file sizes are EXTREMELY small, most are just 1kb. That means literally any device you have, phone, computer, etc can handle these.
The .ERG or .MRC file is the basis for any of these platforms like Zwift, Trainer Road, and Training Peaks. The difference between platforms is how they structure and present the workout. If you want a full rundown of the differences between platforms just keep reading.
Zone Training and The Benefits of Indoor Training
The idea of indoor training leaves most of us feeling like this
But it’s actually relaxing. You get to watch a TV show or Movie, listen to a book or music. It becomes your own time for positivity and self growth.
Unless you’re doing VO2 max intervals, then, yeah, it’s pretty brutal.
On that, let’s talk about intervals. First we have to establish what our zones are, they are different for everyone. So we do an FTP or Heart Rate test. From there we work backwards to see our zones. Our body reacts differently to each of these 6 zones. We don’t want to go Zone 6 the whole time because we will probably injure ourselves. And doing Zone 1 won’t be productive enough.
The workouts in the ERG files are written by the coaches with these biological responses in mind. What we want is the right mixture of these zones based on our goals. So we are stressing the body in specific ways so we can get specific adaptations, namely, to do more work, aka: be in better shape.
So this is what some zones could look like
There are different zone models, some use 6,7, or even 8 zones.
Zone 1: Endurance. This is where you can sit all day with no problem
Zone 2: Tempo. Here you can still hold a conversation without labored breathing
Zone 3: Sweetspot. This is where you spend a majority of your time during races
Zone 4: Threshold. You will only be able to get out a few words at a time before taking a couple breaths
Zone 5: Anaerobic. This zone will take concentrated effort, a common expression is ‘burning matches’ because in this zone you only have so many attempts until you run out
Zone 6+: Vo2 Max. You will only be able to hold this for a minute before feeling really taxed
Outdoor v Indoor training
When I first started, I was told to do any ride under 3 hours on the trainer. People will have strong opinions on this, but I’ve found indoor training is simply a more efficient way to use time and money.
Let’s compare the two most important investments: Time and Money. When you start, you’re not gonna spend a lot of time on the bike. Not everyone has access to safe roads to ride on. So driving 15 mins just to ride for 30 mins is not so smart, especially if you’re doing this a decent portion of the week. If you’re a competitive cyclist, then you understand the importance of doing a workout exactly as prescribed.
In the beginning the barrier of money invested is very, very real. For the same price of a power meter like power pedals, you can get an indoor smart trainer. Both tell you watts, but the power pedals require more effort to use. Even if you get power pedals, you still need a bicycle computer to record the wattage data the pedals produce.
Not only that, but you need all the equipment to ride outside: helmet ($60), front and rear lights ($40 each), emergency repair kit ($30) with extra tubes ($10 each). A normal bike computer is, let’s say $200… so you’re at roughly $400 with just the basics. Can you get these things cheaper? Sure, go on Amazon and I’m sure you’ll find a $10 helmet. I’m talking about decent gear that will last a good amount of time.
Maybe more importantly, a smart trainer guarantees you will ride at the exact watts your training plan says to do. No stopping for stop signs. No going up or down hills that require the right gearing to meet the correct wattage prescribed. An indoor trainer will get you in shape faster because you’ll do the intervals exactly as prescribed and you’re more likely to use it because when it’s 30 or 100 degrees outside, you won’t use that as an excuse not to ride.
I had no idea how any of this works when I started cycling. All I knew is that I was out of shape and didn’t want to be a lard anymore. I hopped on my dad’s trainer, downloaded a platform’s app, and in 15 minutes, had a 12 month custom training plan ready to go. These days I am training more specifically with strength training and a training plan designed by a specific coach from Training Peaks.
But the concept remains the same, whether you’re trying to lose extra weight or exploring how competitive you can be, indoor cycling is a great option and the training plan platforms offer something for everyone. For the first two years of getting into this, I just followed a general plan and updated my FTP as I went… easy as that.
People will fight about which platform is better. Most have a free two week or 30 day trial so check out our tutorials on them and try them all out to see which one you like the best.
Indoor Training Essentials
There are a few improvements that significantly increase ease of use. In reality the easier it is to use, the more likely we are to use it. Just like any other part of cycling, you can spend as much as you want.
What about some things that will make the indoor training session a bit more bearable? First in this category is: fans.
Pop over to our full fan review article to read all of our testing, but to be brief, our conclusions were: bladed fans suck and the wahoo is too expensive for what it does. So the best bang for the buck is a Lasko from amazon. You can usually find it on sale for less than $50. One is sort of enough. But if you’re higher than Zone 2, you’ll be thankful you bought two. Let me put it this way: two provides more air flow than the wahoo for less than half the price. For the ultimate wind in your hair, get two of these bad boys. One of those is significantly stronger than the wahoo and enough if you're in a climate controlled setting.
If you’re in a normal building that has HVAC, 2 Laskos are going to serve you well and may even be too much. I'd say get one and try it, if you want more you can always snag another. If you aren’t convinced a fan will make a big difference… just try it, man, just try it.
Another thing that will make your indoor training session more bearable is having a surface to put all your crap on. On a normal workout you could have:
- Computer if you Zwift
- headphones / earbud case
- Water bottle or 2
- Snack like a rice cake or power bar or gel
- Maybe even your post workout shake to consume during your cool down (I’ll do this on harder efforts)
And you’re gonna want to keep all that organized.
Here comes the plug... Our cycling desk is both the most economical and the most functional. With our modular bracket system it allows you to keep all of your stuff organized and where you want it.
Other desks are simply too expensive. The Saris is $370! You can literally buy our desk, all the brackets we offer, and two of the Lasko fans and still have $100 bucks left over! That pays for 6 months of Zwift, or 5 months of Trainer Road, or your choice of training plan from Training Peaks.
- You get to bring your own power supply with as many outlet ports as you want
- Flat packs in a closet or under a bed for when you aren’t using it
- 100% made in our shop in South Carolina
- More usable surface than the competition
- Sustainable materials (100% wood)
I could keep going but I feel like I’m losing you. For more info just cruise around on the site a bit.
Indoor Training Setups
As we already established, you can get away with a cheap rig. You may just have to train by heart rate.
Fluid Head Trainer: $100
The Frugal Cyclist Desk: $120
Fans : $60 (just 1 and not on sale)
So for this set up we are basically at $400… not bad.
Do you really need our desk? To be honest, maybe not. I think it’s an ease of use decision. Having a desk does make it so much easier, I’d put it in the group with the fans in terms of importance. You don’t technically need it, but for the dollar, it offers a lot of functionality.
So let’s take a look at other ways to get a decent setup that could be used dependably everyday if needed. Having the functionality of riding indoors everyday assumes the pieces we put in place are going to be sturdy and last for multiple seasons or even decades.
Trainer: $700 (assuming you get a direct drive)
The Frugal Cyclist Desk: $120
Fans : $120 (not on sale)
This is a full system that will get you up and cycling and last for a long time. If you have the cash and want to upgrade one thing I would say put a few more bucks into the trainer.
So the bulk of the cost is the smart trainer. If you were my riding buddy I would suggest you get a direct drive trainer. They are easier to use, require less maintenance, and tend to have less issues. For the basics, all in, we are about $1,000… excluding the bicycle. If you want to see an in depth way to get a dedicated trainer bicycle for cheap check out our article on that.
This is the midrange set up. Honestly, I use a mix of this set up and the Basics. I have an older smart trainer, dedicated indoor shoes, and no TV. So really mix and match, this article is to give you ideas about what you want out of your setup.
For a high end trainer, I have to suggest the Wahoo Kikr or the Tacx Neo 2T. My 2014 Wahoo Kikr is still going strong and we also use the Tacx Neo 2T pretty much every day.
I’m not going to suggest a TV or indoor shoes because those are so highly specific. My foot fits Shimano with no hot spots but yours might fit another brand better. And people have such intense opinions on TV’s where I’m cool with the cheapest 50” 4k TV Walmart has… generally $300.
Top of the line trainer: $1300
50” TV: $500
The Frugal Cyclist Desk: $170 (you get all of our brackets)
Fans: $120 (not on sale)
Dedicated indoor shoes: $180
So putting in $2,400 gets you a dependable set up with a good portion of the bells and whistles that will last for years, even decades if you take care of it.
High End Setup
Smart bike: $3,000
Fans: $120 - $200
The Frugal Cyclist Desk: $120
Dedicated Computer for Zwift: $500
TV for a Display: $500
Dedicated Indoor Shoes: $180
Apparel to Boot: $400
So roughly 5 Grand
Obviously you can spend a bunch more on apparel if you want, or get a super nice TV or computer… This is just for comparison's sake. Most people have other things to spend money on… you know like your kid’s college fund or groceries… Or GME calls.
So let’s get into the apps, the training platforms. Which one is best for you? Well that depends on a few things. System requirements are probably at the top of discussions because if you can’t run it on your computer, why bother? Then we will talk about ease of use, price, and training plans
They don't enable you to connect a trainer and do a workout. It is just a platform for coaches or athletes to design workouts and process the data from them. You can export the workout file to use with Trainer Road, Zwift, Golden Cheetah as we’ll talk about later. So it’s just browser based and anyone can use it on any device.
This first image is after you click on a specific workout. You then go over to the Export Workout File in the upper right hand corner.
Then a screen pops up and asks for what file type you want.
Save this file in a folder and you can import it to the other platforms.
This is the most computer hungry app. They require at a minimum:
- CPU: AMD Athlon (3.2 - 3.5 GHZ)
- GPU: 1 GB dedicated
- RAM: 8GB
- Program size: 4GB
Which, to be honest, isn’t super demanding. You may have a computer that can handle that, but if you were to buy a computer with those specs it’d probably cost $500 on a deal, or in the $700’s on a normal day.
The reason Zwift is so demanding is that it’s basically a video game. You are in this virtual world called Wattopia and you cruise around it on different roads. If you have a decent enough internet connection you can also see other people from around the world cycling the same roads in real time. It’s honestly pretty sweet.
But to handle all of that, you need a computer that can process what you are doing in the program, all the graphics, and what everyone else is doing as well. Most midrange computers from the past couple years will be able to handle it, but definitely check to see before you sign up.
These guys require less than half of Zwift. Their platform is very bare bones on graphics, as it just shows a line going across the screen showing where you are in each interval and your current data points.
They want you to have a computer that has
- CPU: 1.6 GHZ
- GPU: no specifications
- RAM: 2 or 4 GB
- Program Size: 237 MB
- So basically a computer made within the past 15 years
CPU: anything since 2010 probably
Program Size: 835 MB
I haven’t been able to find system requirements for Golden Cheetah, however, it works perfectly fine on my midrange 2012 MacBook Pro that I converted to Linux. Golden Cheetah doesn’t seem to work on mobile devices so you will have to use a desktop, but it seems that really any desktop will do.
As you can see, the interface is pretty basic… It looks like a 90’s video game. But, for that reason it can run on pretty much any computer you have laying around.
Something to note is this is the only program that will work on Linux, Windows, and Mac. The others work on Mac, Windows, IOS, and Android. So if you have an old computer laying around and want a dedicated training computer, slap linux on there, then download Golden Cheetah and you have a free set up with no monthly membership. Albeit, it takes a lot more effort to do.
CPU: Duo 1.3 GHZ processor
GPU: None Specified
Program Size: 130 MB + 1GB per hour of footage
This seems to require the same type of computer as Trainer Road so it should work on most computers.
The interface while doing a workout feels very similar to Trainer Road unless you opt for video workouts.
Pricing, Ease of Use, and Features
Best For: Advanced Cyclists
Price Basic: Free
Premium: $20 monthly, $15/mo (annual)
Training Plans: Varies
Ease of Use: 7/10
This platform is basically straight from the brain of the most well known and tenured endurance coach out there: Joe Friel. Joe has written many books like the Triathlon Training Bible, Cycling Training Bible, Fast After 50, that are exactly what the titles say. His books are the gold standard and Training Peaks literally Trademarked terms like TSS, FTP, and more.
His son actually made the platform with an engineer friend. Training Peaks is now the most popular platform worldwide, pretty much anyone that has a coach uses the platform to get their custom training plan hammered down as well as dissect the data from each workout.
The cool part is that you can use Training Peaks for free. This enables basic functions and even gives you free access to cycling, running, and swimming workouts designed by Joe himself. You can even drag and drop these workouts to make your own free training plan! You can see them on the left hand side of the screen, 316 premade cycling workouts.
You can also purchase a pre-made training plan from their marketplace of over 17,000 plans, or even hire a coach through Training Peaks to make a custom one for you.
Training Peaks gets a 10 on plans because they have literally thousands of them from beginner plans to plans made by the top coaches around the world.
You can even get a personal coach through Training Peaks. They have three levels of coaching: $119, $189, and $299 per month. So if you’re just getting started, just buying a training plan might be the best way to go. The cost will vary, but you can get a basic 6 week indoor cycling plan for $20. If you’re a seasoned athlete, though, you may want a custom plan from a coach to take you to the next level.
If you do buy a plan, you will still need to have an application that will communicate with your trainer. Because of this, unless it’s for a specific plan or you want their data analytics, there’s really no reason to buy a plan from Training Peaks. Even then, each of the other apps have data analytics and specified plans too. Each of the following apps excluding Golden Cheetah will have basic training plans included in their normal subscription.
It’s incredibly surprising that Training Peaks doesn’t have the function for you to execute a workout within their software. This is why I gave them a score of 7/10 for features. Sure you can sync Training Peaks to Trainer Road so the workouts port automatically, but dude, that’s another membership on another platform just to execute the workout? It’s bizarre. I mean Training Peaks is the largest platform in the world. You’d think they could include a feature that free software like Golden Cheetah has.
To be fair: if you’re starting to get into specific training because you’re getting competitive, you probably don’t care one bit about $20/ month or syncing a couple accounts. I’d be surprised if that kind of rider doesn’t have $3,000 invested in their bike alone, not to mention all the peripherals, race entries, travel costs, and on, and on.
So that’s the takeaway:
Yes, Training Peaks has options for beginners. But their features don’t reflect it.
And that’s really how these apps should be viewed: each one is for a different type of rider. There is no right or wrong training app, it’s just which one suits your life and riding the best. I would put Training Peaks in the most advanced category because you’re going to end up paying twice as much as the other apps out there.
All that said, if you’re looking for a basic plan in a one stop shop, all the other apps on the list do that. Most popular of these is Zwift so we’ll start there.
Best For: Cyclists looking to have fun or as a race platform, not much in between
Ease of Use: 10/10
Zwift has gamified indoor cycling to where it’s actually fun to cruise around in their world. It’s legitimately fun to see other people around the world riding their virtual bike. Not only that but they have thousands of structured workouts, training plans that can tailor to the amount of time you want to spend and type of riding you do, and its $15 a month.
The set up is super easy. In 10 minutes you’re rolling around wattopia.
The first screen you come to is this, so you connect your stuff
Then it brings you to this page where you can choose where to ride or who to ride with. Also, notice all the events on the right hand side of the screen.
This is the social aspect of Zwift that is really awesome, and in my opinion the best part. Because when you’re on the trainer, it really helps to have a sense of community. Even if everyone is a stranger, seeing people do something you’re doing is motivating. It’s just that extra bit that gets you pedaling and consistently getting on the bike.
And here it is in action… sorta. I didn’t have anything linked up, but you get the picture.
They also have cities built out to look like real life. They have London, NYC, France, Paris, Richmond VA, and others.
Then you have racing leagues from beginners to the world’s best cyclists.
Zwift really isn’t lacking anywhere. The only reason they got an 8/10 on their training plans is they don’t allow for strength training and don’t go past 8-9 hrs per week. The plans seem too general and only allow for one or two blocks of planning at a time.
Really, you want to do specific blocks of training at specific times of the season.
If you’re the cyclist that simply likes to be social or you could benefit from a little structured training, Zwift is a great option.
Zwift shouldn’t be used for your training plan if you’ve gotten a season or two under your belt and really want to plan out a whole year with strength training to boot. If you were my riding buddy, I would steer you in the direction of a platform with a better training plan, like one from Training Peaks or Trainer Road.
Best For: Cyclists looking to get faster using a custom structured training plan
Price: $20/mo or $15.75/mo (annual)
Ease of Use: 10/10
Trainer Road is the Oatmeal of training platforms. It’s no nonsense and when extra ingredients are added, it can be entertaining and substantial enough to be an everyday choice.
The biggest advantage Trainer Road has over the other platforms is you can use it exclusively until you are knocking on the door of being a competitive cyclist. Here’s why:
Upon signing up with Trainer Road you go into Plan Builder, Trainer Road’s proprietary system to get you a fully custom year long training plan in 10 minutes. At least that’s how long it took me.
Heres how the process works:
First you answer a few questions about your interval training so far.
Then you choose a start date and enter any events that are on your calendar
They also ask you about time off, like planned vacation. The next screen will let you play around with what days are your off days. I wouldn’t mess around with it too much. The way they order the rides is very particular and calculated. For example: Intense days should never be followed up with another intense day right after unless it's for a very specific reason. At the bottom left of the screen you can also customize specific days.
Then it will show you the layout of the plan and each block.
Scroll down and click add to schedule, and you’re done. You now have a year long training plan.
In 2021 they upped their game by introducing Adaptive Training. This takes surveys at the end of each workout and changes your plan's intensity according to how difficult or easy it is.
This is super nice when your strength is progressing fast in a block. All you do is answer that the workout was easy and the next workout in the same Zone will be bumped up a good deal. If you’re getting over trained, it will dial the intensity back. This way each workout is tailored to what is going on in your life.
So why would you need any other ingredients? This oatmeal seems perfectly fine. Well, here’s the thing: Their plans stop at 11 hours a week and there is no option to incorporate strength training. If you’re wanting to take your cycling past Zwifting with your friends, you really need strength training. From an injury prevention perspective, some say all cyclists should lift weights to some degree.
Also, as mentioned before, there is nothing special happening on the screen. So if you are someone that needs to be entertained throughout the workout you won’t be able to rely on the pretty graphics that Zwift has. It’s just a trade off though because Trainer Road doesn’t require as much from your computer and it seems their development has been focused on getting you faster, not entertaining you. And it works. Follow their training plan you build in their plan builder and you will definitely get faster.
So the key takeaway is Trainer Road is for the type of cyclist looking to improve performance, but doesn’t necessarily need a Training Peaks plan or a coach just yet.
If you’re happy to stay in shape and Zwift with your friends, Zwift is all you need.
Best For: someone looking for a well rounded training plan, but not super concerned about getting faster on the bike
Ease of Use: 10/10
Systm is made by Wahoo, one of the most popular smart trainer brands. Wahoo basically bought Sufferfest, a widely used training plan company and partnered with GCN. They launched September 2021 and is a great competitor to Trainer Road.
System is very diversified. They let you incorporate strength training, yoga, and mental training into a custom training plan.
I think they are casting too wide of a net with strength training. They use body weight exercises, which is cool, but if you’re trying to train for cycling, you really need to focus on movements that mimic the pedal stroke with heavy weights. If you’re just trying to have a stronger body in general, then it’s probably pretty great.
The cool thing is that everything has a video with a narrator guiding you along.
Here’s strength training
They even have a plan builder, first you choose your discipline
This is also a super cool part of this, you can make a training plan for general fitness. The thing is if you’re something for everyone, you’re not gonna satisfy the people on the tail ends of the spectrum.
Choose your terrain, then discipline
Once you go through those choices, it pops out a calendar with all your workouts on it. Basically the same flow and process as Trainer Road in terms of plan building process.
That’s the gist of Systm. It is cool that every workout has a guided video and that yoga, mental training, and strength work is a part of it.
System is an all arounder. So that’s a great thing or a not so great thing depending on your goals. I wish they would let you get more cycling specific with specific strength work. If you’re focused on cycling… It may be an additional tool that helps you stay balanced, but another app will probably make you faster.
Best For: Cheapskates
Ease of Use: 2/10
Golden Cheetah is free, let’s just start there. All these other programs are by for profit companies. The fact that we have open source software from people that straight up donate their time is amazing. It’s one of the most beautiful things about the internet.
The data analytics is where Golden Cheetah truly shines. You can bulk import your workouts from the past few years and see everything Training Peaks would show you. Let’s take a look:
Okay to kick things off, here is the trends tab. This is pretty simple, you choose a date range and a metric and it’ll show you stuff. This first one is just a summary of my last 6 months of riding
It’ll show power stats over a specific time period and all your rides over that period at a glance
Then in the diary tab you can make it look however you want, put any chart anywhere.
You can make a chart to show pretty much any metric you want… there are so many more.
I would argue Golden Cheetah is as powerful as Training Peaks in terms of data analysis. Training Peaks is for ease of use and when you have a coach looking at your data. Golden Cheetah is for a cheapskate like me that doesn’t mind jumping through a couple hoops so that I don’t have to pay another subscription when there is a free option available.
Really I would have to pay two subscriptions: Training Peaks Premium for the data processing, and Zwift or Trainer Road to interface with my trainer.
Yes, Golden Cheetah is clunky and not as intuitive as the other platforms. That just goes with this type of software. With Linux, it enables you to take any crummy computer and turn it into a dedicated indoor training computer that you don’t have to worry about ruining.
I took my old 2012 MacBook Pro that Apple decided shouldn’t get updates anymore and put Linux and Golden Cheetah on there. That saved the computer from going to waste and gave functionality at the same time. It’s actually super convenient to have a computer that all my workout files and programs are on.
So, is it an option? Yes.
Is it an option for everyone? Probably not, but, hey it’s cool
What training platform is best for you? Totally depends.
Training Peaks is for the person that knows what they want out of training while Zwift is for entertainment and light structured training.
Trainer Road is for people who are very focused on cycling, but needs to be supplemented with strength training and entertainment. Systm is for people looking to be well rounded and not very focused on cycling performance.
This is all based on if you were my riding buddy and asked me a casual question. All of these platforms offer a free trial so test them out and see which one you like the most!
March 3, 2022
Love the article but which training system should I choose?
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